Ranking Notre Dame Positions, Draft-Eligible Players: Phil Steele
Unofficially, the second to last of the 2020 college football preseason prognostications has reached the newsstands with Phil Steele’s mega-thick publication finally released. (Sports Illustrated generally has the final word in August.)
Steele’s projection for Notre Dame is in line with the status quo that has head coach Brian Kelly’s troops as a College Football Playoff contender and among the top six to 16 in the 130-team Football Bowl Subdivision.
Indeed, the Fighting Irish have finished No. 11 (10-3), No. 5 (12-1) and No. 12 (11-2) in the Associated Press poll from 2017-19, compiling a 33-6 overall ledger to rank No. 6 in winning percentage during that time.
Notre Dame is No. 9 in Steele’s top 40, but No. 8 in his “Power Poll” that is based on solely talent as opposed to the former, which is strictly on where he thinks the Irish will finish. Sporting News also has Notre Dame No. 8, while Athlon has it No. 9, Lindy's No. 10, Street & Smith No. 11 and the ESPN Football Power Index No. 16.
Highlighting Steele's publication are the national ratings of each position group, along with where individual players rank from a draft-eligible perspective in the spring of 2021. Here was the Notre Dame breakdown, from strongest to lowest among those eight:
Offensive Line — No. 3
Notre Dame has 114 career starts returning here, significantly more than No. 1 Alabama (87) and No. 2 Oklahoma (75). But the Crimson Tide and Sooners also have regularly been averaging 45 to nearly 50 points per game.
Four All-American teams were selected by Steele on offense, defense and special teams, and fifth-year senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg was the lone Notre Dame representative, on the fourth team.
Eichenberg also ranks as the No. 6 draft-eligible tackle, Robert Hainsey No. 30 and Josh Lugg No. 40.
Tommy Kraemer is the No. 4 draft-eligible guard, Aaron Banks No. 14, and junior center Jarrett Patterson is No. 10 at his position.
Special Teams — No. 10
Coordinator Brian Polian’s crew has finished in the top 25 in efficiency — which includes field position, coverage, etc. — each of the past two years and returns the No. 5 draft-eligible kicker in senior Jonathan Doerer, who converted 17 of 20 field goal attempts in 2019.
Quarterback — No. 21
Ian Book is in line to be Kelly’s first three-year starter at QB in his 11 seasons at the helm. The fifth-year senior also was ranked No. 13 among 2021 draft-eligible quarterbacks.
Defensive Backfield — No. 22
Despite the loss of three starters from a secondary that helped Notre Dame finish in the top 6 nationally each of the past two seasons in pass efficiency defense, this unit ranked the highest on defense — mainly because rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is listed as the No. 3 draft-eligible safety.
No cornerback made the 53-man cut at that position.
Linebacker — No. 23
Because Owusu-Koramoah was classified among the safeties, Notre Dame had no representation at outside linebacker. Senior Drew White and junior Shayne Simon, coming off patella surgery last November, were No. 16 and No. 57, respectively, among the 65 draft-eligible inside linebackers.
Defensive Line — No. 24
Lots of depth but not quite enough star power to rank higher. Among strictly the ends, fifth-year seniors Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes are No. 9 and No. 31, respectively, among 2021 draft eligible players.
On the interior, 95 draft-eligible players were selected, with junior Jayson Ademilola No. 49 and senior Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa No. 51.
Receivers/Tight Ends — No. 24
We were surprised to see junior Tommy Tremble not listed among the 65 top draft-eligible tight ends, while senior Brock Wright, with four career catches, was No. 60.
With 75 wideouts listed, fifth-year senior Javon McKinley, whose first 11 receptions at Notre Dame all came last year, was No. 49.
Running Backs — No. 58
While most of Notre Dame’s position groups were bunched together among the top 21-24, this was far and away deemed the weakest group.
Other than Division II’s 5-8, 175 Jaleel McLaughlin of Notre Dame (Ohio) at No. 57 among the 75 draft-eligible backs, Notre Dame (the one in Indiana) had no representatives listed here. Among the seven scholarship players, none totaled more than 180 rushing yards last season in a college uniform.